Volkswagen Tied to Another Anti-Union Group

Mike Elk

A July flier by the Chattanooga Regional Manufacturing Association offers a training in response to 'the unionization threats of UAW at Volkswagen.'

CHAT­TANOOGA, TENN. — Volk­swa­gen Amer­i­ca recent­ly told Work­ing In These Times that it was not fund­ing efforts to stop the Unit­ed Auto Work­er (UAW) union dri­ve at the VW plant in Chat­tanooga, and that it sup­port­ed the right of employ­ees to union­ize. Now, evi­dence has emerged con­nect­ing VW to anoth­er anti-union group.

Last month, WITT asked VW why it donat­ed to a gala held in June by the right-wing Com­pet­i­tive Enter­prise Insti­tute — whose then-employ­ee, Matt Pat­ter­son, had launched a media and com­mu­ni­ty-aware­ness blitz against the UAW cam­paign in Chat­tanooga. Volk­swa­gen Amer­i­ca spokesman Car­son Krebs respond­ed, We didn’t sup­port CEI for any spe­cif­ic action or any action against UAW. Our Gov­ern­men­tal Affairs Depart­ment attend­ed a din­ner fea­tur­ing Sen­a­tor Rand Paul — so did Ford and the Auto Alliance. As a gen­er­al prin­ci­ple, Volk­swa­gen sup­ports the right of employ­ees to rep­re­sen­ta­tion at all its plants and is in favor of good coop­er­a­tion with the trade union or unions rep­re­sent­ed at its plants.”

How­ev­er, Work­ing In These Times has uncov­ered that Volk­swa­gen Amer­i­ca sup­ports a sec­ond group engaged in anti-UAW activ­i­ty in Chat­tanooga: the Chat­tanooga Region­al Man­u­fac­tur­er Asso­ci­a­tion (CRMA). The local indus­try group boasts VW as a mem­ber, and the CEO of Volk­swa­gen America’s Chat­tanooga Oper­a­tion, Frank Fis­ch­er, sits on its board of directors.

CRMA engages in a vari­ety of anti-union and anti-work­er activ­i­ties that would seem to run counter to Volkswagen’s stat­ed posi­tion of sup­port­ing the right of employ­ees to rep­re­sen­ta­tion at all its plants.” The orga­ni­za­tion pro­motes Chat­tanooga as attrac­tive to man­u­fac­tur­ers because work­ers receive cost-com­pet­i­tive wages that are below nation­al norms, includ­ing total aver­age indus­tri­al earn­ings (83%), man­u­fac­tur­ing wages (75%), and ser­vice sec­tor salaries (81%).” In a mem­ber­ship brochure, CRMA adver­tis­es its union avoidance/​labor rela­tions” seminars.

One of those sem­i­nars, sched­uled for August 14, was billed as teach­ing local com­pa­nies how to remain union-free” despite the union­iza­tion threats of the UAW at Volkswagen.”

There’s more: On its web­site, the CRMA post­ed an invi­ta­tion to July 18 anti-UAW forum orga­nized by anti-union con­sul­tant Matt Pat­ter­son. The event fea­tured Don Jack­son, for­mer pres­i­dent of man­u­fac­tur­ing at Volk­swa­gen of Chat­tanooga. Jack­son blast­ed the union dri­ve in his remarks, say­ing, I’m not sure what the union can improve. … A third par­ty dri­ves a wedge between man­age­ment and employees.”

Asked for com­ment, Volk­swa­gen spokesper­son Scott Wil­son wrote in an emailed statement

As major man­u­fac­tur­ers in the Ten­nessee Val­ley, it is impor­tant for Volk­swa­gen Chat­tanooga to be involved in the civic con­ver­sa­tion in our region and lead to the way with cut­ting edge edu­ca­tion pro­grams and inno­v­a­tive mod­els of employ­ee /​management engagement.

We are involved in the man­u­fac­tur­ing com­mu­ni­ty, but ours is not the only voice in the con­ver­sa­tion. We allow for dif­fer­ences in pro­fes­sion­al opin­ions while work­ing togeth­er to strength­en the man­u­fac­tur­ing base in our region and bring more jobs to the com­mu­ni­ty. Along with sev­er­al oth­er man­u­fac­tur­ers, we spon­sor the annu­al din­ner of the CRMA and we are mem­bers. We have nev­er been a part of any anti-union workshops.

VW did not respond to queries about whether it still has a rela­tion­ship with Jack­son, who left in 2012. (It is not uncom­mon for large cor­po­ra­tions to retain high-lev­el exec­u­tives as con­sul­tants after they retire.)

Local activists say these rev­e­la­tions are yet anoth­er rea­son why Volk­swa­gen needs to more vocal­ly demand that out­side par­ties stay out of a union elec­tion in which Volk­swa­gen has pledged its neutrality.

It’s no won­der that [CRMA] are doing every­thing they can to keep Volk­swa­gen work­ers from orga­niz­ing, since they have spent decades adamant­ly fight­ing the rights of our local work­ers to nego­ti­ate for bet­ter wages, work­ing con­di­tions, ben­e­fits and pen­sions,” wrote Patri­cia Baze­more, an orga­niz­er with labor-com­mu­ni­ty coali­tion Chat­tanooga for Work­ers, in an email to Work­ing In These Times. The ques­tion we have is, why is Volk­swa­gen once again sup­port­ing an orga­ni­za­tion that is obvi­ous­ly try­ing to under­mine what should be the per­son­al choice of their work­ers, not to men­tion the glob­al social con­tract the com­pa­ny has with its workers?”

UAW is a web­site spon­sor of In These Times.

Mike Elk wrote for In These Times and its labor blog, Work­ing In These Times, from 2010 to 2014. He is cur­rent­ly a labor reporter at Politico.
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